Schnurman's sales success: Play to your strengthsMark Schnurmanstrong referral networks, cultivate existing relationships, great listener, natural salesperson I love interviewing loan officers. It offers the chance to meet some successful people and learn what makes them tick. To ensure that I hire the right person, I proceed with a line of questioning designed to outline the candidate's expectations of the job and how the candidate plans on building his business. The company I work for, GFI, tracks the performance of the candidates we hire and train, and pays particular attention to how they build their businesses. Our research tells us that the loan officers with the highest performance are those who build strong referral networks with real estate agents, and so we try to hire people with those skill sets. Sales managers all have business models that they believe will enable loan officers to succeed and often try to push people into their models. Unfortunately, many times, loan officers are hired who are not capable of executing our plans. Managers need to understand the strengths, weaknesses and competencies of their people and possess the skills and flexibility to help them develop customized business plans. Loan officers who know and play to their strengths succeed; those who do not know their strengths fail. No amount of training or coaching will allow you to fit a square peg into a round hole. Our personalities are more or less set in stone. Over time, people do not change, but become more of who they are. Some people are meant to be salespeople in our models and others are not--period. That is not a value judgment, but a reality. So there are two choices. You can hire only those people who clearly fit the model or hire people and help them create a customized plan that they can execute. At GFI, most of the people we hire fit our model. However, we do occasionally hire loan officers whose paths diverge from our own. Let me share two elucidating cases of loan officers I recently hired. We conducted a new loan officer training class with about 10 new loan officers. Our training is world class and focuses on networking and developing relationships with referral sources such as real estate agents, CPAs and attorneys. During the training, it became clear that what I was advocating was not resonating with Steve and Susan (names changed to protect the innocent). While they both worked hard during the training to learn the marketing approaches and sales pitches, they had difficulty getting their arms around the business plans that called for a significant amount of outside sales. During the interview process, Steve made it clear that he did not want to build his business through GFI's traditional methods and was hired based on his contacts. Steve is an introvert and a great listener, but not a natural salesperson. He has good contacts, including his wife, who is a top agent at a residential brokerage. Playing to Steve's strengths, we developed a plan to have him meet with several members of his network each day. I was somewhat dubious as to whether he would succeed, because experience teaches that the vast majority of loan officers are not able to transition their contacts into business. Steve proved me wrong. Steve understood that his strengths laid in his ability to cultivate existing relationships, customer service and structuring loans. Outside sales was the wrong fit, but building on the strong relationships that he possessed, he has been able to close about $3 million a month in purchase business. In contrast, Susan is aggressive, direct and forceful. Susan is fiercely protective of her time and felt that outside sales was wasteful because she could contact more people over the phone. We developed a plan that allowed Susan to leverage her strengths. Breaking our traditional model, we developed a plan that allowed Susan to identify and contact real estate agents, CPAs and attorneys. She makes calls wisely and aggressively, and is originating and closing loans. She knew her strengths and played to them. So what are your strengths? Are you better face to face or over the phone? Are you good at the people side of the business or the deal side? Do you prefer A-paper, Alt-A or sub-prime? Do you work better with real estate agents or CPAs? Define and focus on your strengths and free yourself up to succeed! Mark Schnurman is director of business development for New York-based GFI Mortgage Bankers. He may be reached at (212) 837-4645 or e-mail [email protected].